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Tuesday 25th Oct 2016

We all know that the postseason, let alone a portion of the postseason, is a small sample size, too small to be taken too seriously by fantasy owners looking ahead to next season. But this doesn't mean that a player's postseason performance should be ignored altogether. And when it comes to the top postseason performers, it's never too early to start forming opinions about these players. After all, these are high-pressure games that are being watched closely by the entire baseball universe, not just local fans or certain fantasy owners. Actually, I tend to shy away from some of these postseason stars simply because their draft day price could be inflated due to their October heroics. But if you're a believer in these guys and are willing to pay the necessary price in order to own them next year, you might as well decide now.

Justin Turner - Those who wrote off Turner's productive 2015 campaign as an aberration could not have been more mistaken. The Dodgers third baseman turned in a career year in 2016, batting .275 with 27 homers, 90 RBIs and 79 runs scored during the regular season. He then went 6-for-15 (.400 AVG) with one home run, five RBIs and five runs scored during the five-game Division Series versus the Nationals. Still, I can't get around the fact that he was a career-long role player prior to 2015. I might be proven wrong here, but if one of my league mates is willing to spend a mid-round pick to draft Turner as their starting CI in a 12-team mixed league or starting 3B in a deeper format, I'll let them do just that.

Javier Baez - Baez is looking like an ideal post-hype sleeper candidate heading into 2017. The 23-year-old is fresh off a quietly productive 2016 season in which he swatted 14 home runs while swiping 12 bags and hitting a respectable .273 across 421 at-bats. His minor league numbers suggest that a power spike is likely, and his position versatility (at least 25 games played at third base, second base and shortstop) and impressive postseason (.375 AVG, HR, 2 RBI, 4 R) only adds to his fantasy appeal. I'll be targeting this across-the-board contributor in all of my drafts next spring.

Joe Panik - Panik's postseason stat line (6-for-10, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R) should remind us that this is a player who could serve as a quality starting MI in deeper mixed leagues next season. And the best part? Thanks to an injury-marred and disappointing 2016 campaign, the Giants second baseman will be there for the taking in the late rounds. Expect him to be a steady source of runs and batting average in 2017.

Matt Moore - Sticking in San Francisco, Moore dominated the Cubs on Tuesday, allowing just one earned run on two hits over eight innings while racking up ten strikeouts. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Moore throughout his big league career, but the 27-year-old former top prospect still carries breakout potential. Plus, moving from the hard-hitting AL East to the more pitcher-friendly NL West can only be seen as a good thing. Moore makes for an intriguing option as a fourth or fifth starter in mixed leagues next season.

Corey Kluber - I drafted Kluber this year with the 41st pick as the 12th SP off the board in my NFBC Draft Champions league, and I'm pleased to announce that I got what I paid for. As for this postseason, the Indians have to be pleased with what they are getting from their ace. How about 13 1/3 scoreless innings through two starts? Consider Kluber a clear-cut top-10 fantasy SP entering 2017, and don't be surprised if he climbs even further up the ranks. 

I drafted well, made a few trades that really paid off along with a number of strong FAAB pickups. But it was not until September, when Trea Turner continued to get on base and swipe bags at will, Justin Upton homered every other game and Justin Verlander pitched like it was 2011 that I thought there was a legitimate chance of winning the Tout Wars Mixed Auction league. Most of the final few weeks were spent bouncing between first and second place before taking the lead for good with only a few days remaining. After spending some time reflecting on this championship season, it's time to write about it. 

MVP (hitter): Jose Altuve - I felt comfortable shelling out 31 bucks for Altuve's services, confident he would earn back at least that in the form of a .350-plus OBP, 35-plus steals and 85-plus runs. If he could somehow match last season's 15 homers, that would be special. As it turned out, the Astros second baseman fell a bit short in stolen bases, but I'm not complaining. He easily exceeded every other projection while still ranking among the top four players in the AL in thefts. With this MVP-worthy season, Altuve raised his fantasy stock from top-15 pick to top-5 pick. I'd have no problem paying the increased price in 2017, which could approach $40 in an auction. However, note that only five of his 24 home runs came after August 1st, so counting on another 20-home run season might be a little too optimistic.  

MVP (pitcher): Jon Lester - Paying 25-plus dollars for a "true ace" is not my style. Instead, my preference is targeting a pitcher in the low-end ace/high-end SP2 tier with the potential to deliver a "true ace" caliber season. Lester was the guy I wanted and indeed purchased at a reasonable cost of $21. I'd say it all worked out pretty well. The Cubs southpaw earned a price hike for 2017, but even so, the continually underrated hurler should be well worth the investment. 

Best bargain auction purchase (hitter): Carlos Beltran - Beltran cost $2 as my fifth outfielder, and I was expecting 130 games, 20 homers and 70 RBI. Instead, the 39-year-old enjoyed his most productive season since 2012, batting .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBI in 151 games split between the Yankees and Rangers. Beltran proved he can still be a middle of the order bat, but can he remain injury-free for a second straight season? I wouldn't be surprised if Carlos eventually finds a home in the Hall of Fame, but at a price that figures to be in the $10-$15 range, I'll likely steer clear of him in 2017.

Best bargain auction purchase (pitcher): Jose Quintana - Julio Teheran ($6) deserves an honorable mention, but Quintana's overall numbers are better. This $9 buy turned in a career year, though his lack of run support (13 wins despite a 3.20 ERA) was frustrating. There's little reason to think that Quintana, who turns 28 in January, will regress in 2017, and I'll be willing to spend the 15 bucks it will take to draft him at the auction table.  

Best FAAB addition (hitter): Travis Jankowski - Although Jankowski faded in September (.256 OBP, 1 SB), he remained productive long enough to reward me with 16 steals. A glance at the final standings reveals that those 16 swipes were worth four points, a fine return for 152 FAAB dollars. Jankowski's fantasy outlook for 2017 is a mystery, as San Diego's outfield picture is crowded, with Manuel Margot his main competition. If given regular at-bats, Jankowski could be a quality mixed league asset. Stay tuned.

Best FAAB addition (pitcher): Ervin Santana - Santana hasn't exactly been the model of consistency but the veteran righty is usually a safe bet for a quality start, and that's all you can ask from a back-end of the rotation mixed league starter. So one day in early-July, I spotted Big Erv on the waiver wire and figured he really didn't belong there despite struggling in May and June. This was a case of perfect timing, as 12 FAAB dollars bought a 2.40 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 15 starts to go along with 89 strikeouts across 97 1/3 innings. I won't be trying to draft Santana next year, but wouldn't mind owning him for the price of a late-round pick or a couple of dollars in an auction.

Best trade: Aaron Nola and Jay Bruce for Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp - Speaking of perfect timing, this swap seemed balanced when it was agreed to in late-June. Nola was in the midst of a rough stretch but after his outstanding April and May, there was reason to think he would bounce back. Meanwhile, despite a strong strikeout rate, Verlander sported a mediocre 4.30 ERA. Still, I was looking for more stability in my starting rotation, and in that respect, considering Nola's thin big league track record, he was the riskier option. To make up for the moderate (but at the time not significant) starting pitching upgrade, I was willing to accept what at the time was an outfield downgrade from Bruce to Kemp. Well, we all know how this turned out. In 18 starts for my squad, Verlander went 9-3 with a 1.98 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 147 strikeouts over 123 innings. Nola would make only four more starts before missing the remainder of the season due to an elbow injury. Bruce would register a .763 OPS in the second half after posting an .853 OPS prior to the All-Star break while Kemp provided 19 homers and 55 RBI in 81 games.

Best move I didn't make: Trading Trea Turner - It was early-May and Turner, a reserve round pick, wasn't close to being called up. Getting tired of waiting and figuring I could use a boost in power, I thought it might make some sense to part with Trea and his upside for a known commodity in Lucas Duda. Eventual runner-up Fred Zinkie had expressed interest in Turner but was unwilling to meet my asking price of Duda and Alcides Escobar for Turner and Trevor Plouffe. I actually formally proposed this. All Fred needed to do was click "Accept". Phew.

As always, thanks to the Tout Wars brain-trust for running these leagues, and special thanks to Peter Kreutzer (aka Rotoman) for his yeoman's work as the Mixed Auction league commissioner. 

Two weeks to go, and though most of my fantasy focus at this point in the season is geared towards finishing strong and possibly even winning a league title or two, it is also a time for reflection. And since the biggest key to winning in fantasy is earning as much profit as possible, whether it be through the draft or via the waiver wire, one of my annual end of season traditions is to assemble a team of players who all exceeded draft day expectations by a hefty margin. And chances are high that at least one of these guys resides on the roster of the vast majority of contending fantasy squads. Let's focus on hitters this week before moving to the mound next week.

C Wilson Ramos - After drafting Ramos in multiple leagues year after year only to be disappointed, I ended up investing in him in only one league this season. And that's too bad, because the Nationals backstop has finally realized his potential, setting career highs across the board. Top 5 catcher heading into 2017? Yeah, I'd say so.

1B Mike Napoli - Staying healthy has been a challenge for Napoli in recent years, but not in 2016. The Indians first baseman is surprisingly enjoying a career year in his age-34 season, and the best part is that he opened the year on the waiver wire in many mixed leagues. Congrats to those of you who stumbled across his 34 homers, 98 RBIs and 89 runs scored through 139 games for the price of a roster spot.

2B Daniel Murphy - What else is there to say? I didn't have any problem with the Mets cutting ties with Murphy this past winter and his $8 price at the Tout Wars Mixed Auction seemed like a fairly accurate measure of his fantasy value. I even viewed Neil Walker as an upgrade at second base for the Amazins. Not quite. Walker pieced together a productive year before succumbing to season-ending back surgery earlier this month. Meanwhile, Murphy is a legitimate MVP candidate. Is this the new Daniel Murphy? Is this what we should expect for 2017? I don't know. But I do know that I won't be willing to pay the 25-plus dollars it will take to find out.  

SS Jonathan Villar - Back in March, Orlando Arcia garnered all of the attention. It was only a matter of time before Arcia would get called up to the big leagues and take over as the everyday shortstop for the Brewers. Villar was seen as merely a placeholder. Well, this placeholder just so happens to sport a .289 batting average with 16 homers and 54 steals through 143 games. That's pretty good production from an April waiver wire pickup.

3B Jake Lamb - Sticking to the early-season waiver wire pickup theme, Lamb was hitting .291 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs at the All-Star break, and though his production has tailed off considerably in the second half, he had already given his owners much more than they paid for. And perhaps his second half fade will lower his draft day price tag to the point where he can again deliver a profit in 2017.

OF Wil Myers - There must be something special about the number 8, because like Daniel Murphy, Myers was purchased for $8 at the Tout Wars Mixed Auction draft table. All he's done is record 25 homers, 83 RBIs, 89 runs and 25 steals through 142 games. After capturing AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, Myers battled health woes and underperformance from 2014-2015, so it's nice to see him finally put it all together. Do note, however, that his bat has cooled off in the second half to the tune of a .215 average, six home runs and 23 RBIs. Still, at just 25 years of age, there's clearly a lot to like about Myers going forward.

OF Mark Trumbo - Trumbo was your prototypical undervalued hitter pick entering this season, and I fully expected him to challenge for 30-35 homers now that he would be playing half of his games at hitter-friendly Camden Yards. But I didn't expect him to challenge for 45 homers, or 95 runs. And consistent power production hasn't been a problem, as he's recorded at least six homers and 15 RBIs in every month from April through August. Trumbo has exceeded even the most optimistic stat projections, and that's why he belongs on this team.

OF Jackie Bradley Jr. - Bradley Jr. could never quite figure things out at the big league level. Then 2016 happened, and we're now looking at a potential perennial All-Star.

And all it took to draft this potential perennial All-Star was one dollar in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction.

Talk about a dollar well spent.

In last week's column, we took a trip around the diamond to look at some of the overachieving hitters of 2016. Let's now head to the mound to complete our All-Value team. Hopefully, you own at least one of these pleasant surprises. But if you don't, please don't beat yourself up too much. Who could have predicted this?

SP Rick Porcello - The no-brainer choice as the ace of this staff, Porcello's second year in Boston has certainly gone better than his first season with the Red Sox, when he posted a 4.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP to go along with a 9-15 record. Through 31 starts this season, the 27-year-old righty is 21-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. This AL Cy Young Award favorite went for a grand total of $1 in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction. But before viewing Porcello as an elite fantasy option for 2017, note that he posted a sub-4.00 ERA in only two of his previous seven seasons. As far as his long-term outlook goes, I remain skeptical.

SP J.A. Happ - If Porcello is the ace of this rotation, Happ, the only other 20-game winner in the Majors heading into the final week of the season, is the clear-cut #2. There was a time when much was expected from Happ, but a career full of inconsistency relegated him to "failed former top prospect" status. Well, at 33 years of age, he's enjoying a career-best season. But will I be anxious to own him in fantasy leagues next year? No, not really.

SP Aaron Sanchez - First, he pitched well enough in spring training to earn the fifth spot in Toronto's rotation. Then, he pitched well enough through the season's first four months (11-1, 2.71 ERA) to challenge for the title of staff ace. The Blue Jays have made a conscious effort to limit the 24-year-old's workload in recent weeks, and Sanchez hasn't been quite as sharp since the beginning of August. But there's a lot to like about any pitcher who registers a 3.12 ERA and 1.18 WHIP through 28 outings in his first season as a full-time big league starter. 

SP Kenta Maeda - No one really knew what to expect from Maeda in his rookie season. But it didn't take long for the Japanese import to make his mark, as he pitched to a 1.41 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in April. There have been some bumps in the road for Maeda (5.04 ERA in May), but all in all, his 2016 campaign can be described as an overwhelming success. Perhaps most impressively, his strikeout rate has remained steady throughout, consistently hovering right around a whiff per inning. Consider him a safe third or fourth starter in mixed leagues for 2017.  

SP Rich Hill - Injuries have been a recurring issue for Hill throughout his career, but when on the field this season, the 36-year-old southpaw posted exceptional numbers, including a 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 rate. Assuming that the impending free agent continues to serve as a starter in 2017, he could once again outperform his draft day price tag, which should be reasonable thanks to his injury history.

CL Roberto Osuna - Remember when Drew Storen was the favorite for saves in Toronto? Storen, the owner of a 5.70 ERA, is currently pitching in middle relief for the Mariners. Meanwhile, Osuna has emerged as one of the game's most reliable stoppers, notching 34 saves in 37 chances to go along with a 2.42 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 10.9 K/9 rate. And two bucks was all it took to purchase him in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction.

So, those of you in the "don't pay for saves" crowd can point to Osuna as another example as to why your draft approach is the correct draft approach.

But that's a debate for another day. 

First place, second place, first place, second place. That sums up my team's journey over the past week or two in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction league. A quick look at the category breakdowns makes it clear that the winner, which could realistically be any one of four teams, will not be determined until the final weekend of the season, maybe even the final day. Or maybe even the day after the final day, as Tout Wars counts stats accumulated in tiebreaker games.

Every year, whether it be in Tout Wars or any of my other leagues, I'm reminded that sometimes your best moves are the moves you don't make. I made a conscious effort this season to be more active in the trade market and even a little more willing to cut ties with an under-performing drafted player in favor of a less proven but more productive waiver wire option. But I did not all of a sudden turn into an impulsive owner who makes irrational decisions based on small sample sizes. Patience has been a quality that has served me well as a fantasy owner. Sometimes, I'm too patient. But I think I found the right balance this season, and looking back, it's scary to think about where I would be in the standings had I not practiced some patience.

On June 1st, Yasmani Grandal was batting .184 with four homers and 15 RBI. At that point, trading the Dodgers backstop for any top-15 type catcher seemed like a good idea. But I had high hopes for Grandal heading into the season and believed he could post career-best numbers if only he could stay healthy. And he was healthy. Three-plus months, 21 homers and 49 RBI later, Grandal is indeed wrapping up a career year, and with ten home runs and 21 RBI since the beginning of August, he's been one of my most productive hitters for quite some time.

I ended up drafting Justin Upton in four of my six leagues this year, and I was comfortable paying $30 for him in Tout Wars. Sure, he's streaky. But in the end, the numbers are always there, and 2016 would be no different. The new Tigers outfielder would also benefit from a lineup upgrade compared to his supporting cast in San Diego. I have always valued the younger Upton's season to season consistency, and that's why he has been a member of many of my fantasy squads over the years. But in early-June, when he was batting .213 with three homers and 11 RBI, I decided that I had enough. The only problem was that he carried zero trade value unless I wanted to sell him for 20 cents on the dollar. I had no choice but to keep him, and I'm glad I did. The .295 OBP is disappointing, but with three weeks to go, Upton is well within reach of matching or exceeding last season's 26 homers and 81 RBI.  

Brandon Finnegan was a popular late-round breakout pick heading into this season, but after drafting him in the reserve rounds, the Reds southpaw resided on my bench for much of the first half. The walk rate was too high and the consistency just wasn't there. I almost dropped him on several occasions and even considered a mid-season trade offer of five FAAB bucks for Finnegan's services. My counteroffer of Finnegan for 20 FAAB dollars was rejected, and that was the end of that. In seven starts since the beginning of August, the 23-year-old has registered a 2.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Also of note is that his strikeout rate has increased from 6.5 K/9 in the first half to 9.3 K/9 in the second half. Finnegan has found a home in my starting lineup, and there's a good chance he will remain there through the end of the season.

We waited and waited and waited some more for Trea Turner to make his 2016 big league debut. During this time, I got tired of waiting and offered Turner along with Trevor Plouffe to Fred Zinkie for Lucas Duda and Alcides Escobar. My offer was rejected. Phew. Finally, Turner was called up by the Nationals. The date was June 3rd, and in his first start of the season, he went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk. A few days later, he was back in Triple-A. Nats fans and fantasy owners were furious. This made no sense. Turner would not return to the big club until early-July, at which time Manager Dusty Baker, in response to questions about Turner's lack of playing time, pointed out that "This isn't a tryout camp." Huh? The speedster had nothing left to prove in the Minors. All he needed was regular at-bats. It all worked out in the end, with Turner learning the centerfield position, which turned out to be his ticket to everyday playing time. He's now my third-most valuable hitter, behind only Jose Altuve and Edwin Encarnacion. The wait was well worth it.  

Now excuse me while I check the standings.

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